Rural fire service roles under review

By Nick Hanson, Federated Farmers policy advisor

Federated Farmers has begun work with the Department of Internal Affairs' Fire Review Panel, which is analysing New Zealand's fire legislation to make emergency services more efficient.

"Federated Farmers has been consulted at the point of first principles," Federated Farmers board fire policy spokesperson and Wairarapa rural fire chief Anders Crofoot said.

The panel will provide advice on three distinct areas of fire policy - whether current legislation is appropriate considering fire services' evolving role and interaction with other emergency services, their operational efficiency and the equity and sustainability of the fire services' funding sources.

One contentious point is the role volunteer fire services have as 'first-responders' to non-fire incidents. Current legislation allows that fire service brigades 'may' attend non-fire incidents, but community demand for the fire service's rapid response has driven an increase in call-outs to motor vehicle accidents and general rescue.

"It's been incredibly difficult to reconcile the requirement for a certain level of service in rural, sometimes isolated, areas with demands placed upon volunteers of both the rural and urban fire services," Mr Crofoot said.

"We have submitted to the panel that local brigades are best-placed to determine their role in non-fire incidents, which includes the ability to opt out where they deem appropriate.

"We also reiterated our support for the recognition of the public-good element to fire prevention and suppression by a contribution to funding from general taxation.

"This funding recognises that saving lives has no relationship to the value of your property or whether you're insured."

Fire policy was last reviewed in 2007. At that time there were several proposals, including a merger of the urban fire service and rural fire authorities which Federated Farmers opposed. The then minister, Rick Barker, withdrew the department's recommendations after primary production and insurance stakeholders disagreed.

The Fire Review Panel's final recommendations will go to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Chris Tremain, in December.

- Hamilton News

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